Invoice to assist US publishers vs. Google, Fb rises once more

Efforts by Congress to empower US news organizations in negotiations with Big Tech give supporters hope that the third time …

Congressional efforts to bolster U.S. news organizations in negotiations with Big Tech give supporters hope that the third time is the stimulus.

The bill, the Law on Competition and Preservation of Journalists, was introduced in March for the third time since 2018. Its chances of getting passed may have improved in a Democrat-led Congress working to revise antitrust laws.

Australia and other countries have begun to push mechanisms in support of news publishers against Facebook and Google, which dominate online advertising. Publishers argue that big tech is squeezing news companies out of digital ad revenue and exercising undue control over who can see their journalism.

The draft law provides for a four-year antitrust exemption for publishers so that they can negotiate as a group with “dominant online platforms”. Facebook and Google receive the majority of online advertising dollars in the US. The move aims to give publishers better leverage with tech companies while allowing coordination that benefits the entire news industry while local news declines in the long run.

David Cicilline, a Democrat from Rhode Island and a sponsor of the law, said in prepared remarks for a hearing earlier this month that the legislation would provide news publishers with a “level playing field” to negotiate deals with key technology platforms. The news industry is grappling with falling revenues, shrinking newsrooms, and failed publications – what Cicilline and others call a threat to democracy – while Google and Facebook are making billions in profits.

“This bill is a life support measure and not the answer to the long-term health of the news industry,” said the congressman.

While the bill has Republican cosponsors in both the House and Senate, some Republicans expressed reservations in the same hearing. Ohio Republican Jim Jordan said he was concerned about giving more media companies more power to suppress conservative opinion. Republicans, often without evidence, claim that tech companies censor conservatives and right-wing media.

The News Guild, a union that represents journalists, says the bill would work best with additional provisions to support jobs. It has long objected to media consolidation and criticized many publishers for hindering union formation and cutting newsroom jobs, particularly at chains of hedge funds and private equity firms.

News Guild President Jon Schleuss wants publishers to use legislation to spend 60% of negotiating revenues hiring more journalists and also support small newspapers and start-ups in “news deserts” where newspapers have folded Instead, it could be spent on things like dividends, share buybacks, and squeezing out higher profit margins.

Microsoft, whose president testified during the hearing, supports the bill. Google and Facebook declined to comment on the legislation on Friday.

In February, however, Facebook took the extraordinary step of banning Australian news from its platform to protest a law that would have required it to negotiate with publishers to compensate them for using news content. Facebook lifted the ban when the government agreed to change the law. Microsoft has now partnered with European publishers to support actions similar to Australian law in Europe.

In recent years, Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple have been scrutinized more and more closely by Congress and regulators. The Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, and attorneys general are suing the internet giants for various antitrust violations, some of which are related to publishers’ problems.

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